Since it was formed in 1980, the E.H. Sumners Foundation has paid out more than $118 million to educate residents of Attala, Carroll, Choctaw, Montgomery, and Webster counties.
John Sumner, retired attorney for the Foundation, said the current payout for tuition for students to attend five Mississippi institutions for higher learning has reached a new milestone for the Foundation.
“The Foundation has been in existence for more than 40 years,” Sumner said. “This is the most [the payout] has ever been.”
According to Monica Owen, trustee for the E.H. Sumners Foundation at Regions Bank, the Foundation’s principal is currently around $90 million, and it requires a five percent payout for tuition each year.
“When the trust started in 1980, the principal was $5 million, and its first distribution was $1 million,” Owen said. “Last year, $3.8 million was paid out. It has been over $3 million per year since 2003.”
According to Harry Sumners, the Foundation’s current attorney, funds are sent directly to the schools, with Mississippi State receiving 30 percent of the annual payout, University of Mississippi receiving 30 percent, University of Mississippi Medical Center receiving 20 percent, Millsaps College receiving 10 percent, and Holmes Community College receiving 10 percent.
“Whoever applies gets the scholarship after I approve them,” Harry Sumners said.
The amount of the scholarship depends on the number of students at that school which is receiving funds for the school year. For schools with just a handful students from the five county area, scholarships can be as large as $30,000 per year.
Harry Sumners said one student received a total of $270,000 for undergraduate and various post-graduate work from the Foundation.
The E.H. Sumners Foundation was established in 1977 by Mary P. “Ging” Sumners to honor her husband, E. H. “Harry” Sumners, and his wishes to give something back to the communities he loved – the gift of higher education.
According to John Sumner, nephew of Harry Sumners, after his freshman year in college in 1905, Harry Sumners, an Indiana native, was forced to leave the James Milikin School (now Milikin University) in Decatur, Ind., and return home to help support his mother and younger siblings. Sumners’ father was in the timber business before he died of yellow fever in the Mississippi Delta.
Harry Sumners followed in his father’s footsteps and began his own timber business. He eventually came to Mississippi and settled in the Stewart area where he established his first saw mill. Over time, he acquired large holdings of timberland in Montgomery, Carroll, Choctaw, Attala, and Webster Counties.
Sumners and his timber business prospered, but according to his nephew, he felt he could have been even more successful in business if he had the opportunity to complete his college education.
John Sumner recalled that his uncle once said, “I made what I have off the sweat of the brow of the people of these fine counties, and I want to give something back to them to help them with their education.”
Years after his death, his wife, Ging Sumners, granted her husband’s wishes and established the Foundation.
The Foundation provides part or all tuition, books, and fees to Mississippi State University, University of Mississippi, Millsaps College, University of Mississippi Medical Center, or Holmes Community College for any student with at least a one-year residency in one of five counties in which Sumners’ land is located and maintain a “C” average while at college.
Owen said the Foundation also has landholdings of 22,000 acres in Attala, Carroll, Choctaw, Montgomery, and Webster counties.
“The land was leased to Weyerhauser in a long-term lease,” Owen said. “We also have hunting leases.”
John Sumner said recently, the timber on Sumner land was cut, and it will be replanted with two-year-old plantation pines.
The trust agreement states that none of the land can ever be sold, and the income received must be used for the education of students.